by   David Hancock

 A century ago the Fox Terrier, mainly the wires, was the most popular breed registered with the Kennel Club. But even then the influence of the show ring was apparent: upright shoulders, ramrod-straight forelegs, limited forward reach and, in the wires, a far too fluffy too-open coat - according to the show ring judges' critiques in The Kennel Gazette of those days. Today, these faults are now inbred, along with an elongated, too-narrow a head and an even fluffier coat, that retains the wet rather than protecting the dog's skin from it. The 'coiffeuring' of the wires before they are presented in today's show rings is prolonged and more than tiresome for the dog. This is a fine English breed and it deserves better. We didn't persevere with the Cheshire Terrier; the Cowley Terrier could so easily have become one of our terrier breeds and we lost our black and tan working terrier to the Welsh. The advance of the Sporting Lucas and Plummer Terriers is encouraging; the division of the Russells into Jacks and Parsons may be as regrettable as the separation of the Fox into Smooths and Wires, never to be interbred under KC rules.

Growing up in the West Country developed a good feel for terriers, although I don't recall our local working terriers being called Fox Terriers - even when they looked the part. A local farmer, who moved up from Devon had his 'Heinies' - perhaps named, I think now, after Heinemann's strain but a title soon lost in the throes of the Second World War and its anti-German feelings. Another just called them 'rick-dogs' and his neighbour, who bred working sheepdogs, dubbed them his 'yard-dogs'. Further north, in Beaufort country, you could hear of Fox Terriers but that was through their function more than their breed type, although many looked like the pedigree breed. Our family version was a smooth-haired solid-black one, more like a Schipperke than today's Patterdales. One aspect however was the terrier temperament! These working terriers were definitely feisty! (I still believe that the word 'terrier' comes not from 'terre' meaning earth but from the French word 'terreur' meaning terror; the French still use our Fox Terriers more in the field than we do and shame on us for that.)

It is sad to see poorly-constructed, so-called sporting terriers in the KC-sanctioned show rings; it is even sadder to see such specimens at country shows, especially the lurcher and terrier shows. It's excusable for pet-owners or show-men to put looks first, but when countrymen don't know a 'performance' build from a showy one it's worrying. And when judges of working terriers put up flawed dogs it's disaster-time! But perhaps the demise of the Fox Terrier started that way. The early show specimens came from hunt kennels, but then the dreaded 'improvements' crept in. Terrier-movement nowadays means moving like a centipede, a blur of fast-moving legs, having to move fast because they have no forward reach and are confined to taking ten tiny steps when five strides should do. This centipedal gait is much admired by Crufts commentators - ignorance can be bliss!

But when the exotic has merit for some, the Cesky, the German Hunt, the Schnauzer and the Pinschers are bound to triumph; a plain Fox Terrier lacks that cachet. Here we have made the Jack Russell, the Parson Russell and the Plummer terriers more numerous than the Fox varieties, yet there is little physically to divide them. The Fox Terriers depicted by artists in the 19th century could have won prizes as any of the three types just named. Perhaps the Fox Terrier just got overtaken. After all, in the hunting field the Harrier has different types and has not the following of old. But I hate the look of the pedigree Fox Terrier in our show rings. They simply lack the build of a sporting terrier however smart their clean-cut, chiselled features appear. Soon the KC will have to drop the term 'Sporting Terrier' because the pedigree show terriers just aren't sporting dogs any more. Some would argue that such an argument could be used for gundogs and some hound-breeds too.

Serving in a West Country County Regiment, at a time when its recruits were mainly countrymen (a great bonus on jungle operations) you found plenty of terrier enthusiasts. One however was adamant that terriers were being 'ruined by townees' rather than the show world alone - and there may be some truth in that. Why breed for a 'weatherproof' coat when the dog doesn't go out in storms or snow? Why breed for an ability to work underground when you don't want your dog even to dig? Why rate persistence and stamina when you can't visualize your dog needing either? For those who show dogs, it doesn't help when your Fox Terrier is being favoured with a long, narrow muzzle, a profuse, mainly white coat and upright shoulders, affecting its movement and ability to operate below ground. We may not just be overlooking our famous Fox Terrier breed but, to put it dramatically, killing it softly!